FULLERTON, Calif. — USC head coach Frank Cruz usually leaves all the mound visits and pitching changes to assistant coach Dan Hubbs, so when he strolled to the mound in the sixth inning it was for more than to just bring in another reliever.
When home plate umpire Steve Fritzoni walked to the mound to break up Cruz’s mound visit, Cruz engaged Fritzoni in a spirited discussion. The home fans grumbled about the lengthy trip to the mound, but Cruz wanted an explanation for the umpire’s tight strike zone.
What had Cruz bothered Tuesday night at Goodwin Field? USC’s pitchers, who entered averaging 3.1 walks per game, issued a season-high 12 walks (and hit two batters) in a 4-2 loss to No. 8 Cal State Fullerton (27-14). Three of Fullerton’s four runs reached via base on balls.
USC (22-18) actually outhit the Titans 8-6, but a 12-2 base-on-balls discrepancy and an outstanding performance from preseason All-American Michael Lorenzen was too much for the Trojans to overcome.
Facing Fullerton’s “Johnny Wholestaff,” USC took an early 1-0 lead in the second inning when Dante Flores came around from first base to beat the relay throw on a James Roberts double into the left-centerfield gap. But CSF starter, Jose Cardona, making only his third appearance this season and first since March 6, was able to get a strikeout and groundout to strand Roberts at third base and minimize the damage.
USC left a pair of runners on base in the third inning and grounded into an inning-ending double play with a pair of runners on in the fifth, but still maintained a 1-0 lead until Fullerton got on the board in the bottom of the fifth.
Following a leadoff walk to Carlos Lopez, Lorenzen sent a double off the right field wall and the Titans took a 2-1 lead on a pair of RBI groundouts. They added to the lead the following inning with the assistance of a pair of leadoff walks.
Richy Pedroza, who was 2-for-3 with a pair of walks, and Ivory Thomas reached base in front of Lopez and Lorenzen. Lopez sent a screaming liner into left field that was caught, but there was no catching Lorenzen’s third extra base hit of the game when he one-hopped the wall just inside the right field line for a two-run triple.
With the 14 free passes from walks and hit by pitches, Fullerton had plenty of opportunities to break the game open, leaving runners on base in each of the first seven frames, including the bases loaded in the third and seventh innings. In total, the Titans left 14 men on base. USC stranded 10.
The Trojans added a run in the eighth inning when Flores scored on a single up the middle by Sean Spear, but with two men on, Garrett Stubbs grounded out to end the inning. In the ninth inning, USC got the tying run to the plate after a hard-biting slider hit Kevin Roundtree, but a fresh Lorenzen slammed the door, pumping it up to 98 mph on his final pitch to strike out Alex Sherrod looking.
Lorenzen consistently sat at 97 mph in his inning of work as he picked up his 13th save of the season, but the last pitch of the game was the first time he has touched 98 mph in a game this season. Koby Gauna picked up his fourth win of the season with 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief.
Offensively, J.D. Davis was the only Titan, besides Lorenzen and Pedroza, with a hit. For USC, Sherrod and Roberts both recorded multiple hits and Flores scored both Trojan runs.
Check out the 20-shot photo gallery from Tuesday night’s Cal State Fullerton/USC matchup below: